I won’t share it here, but recently a friend messaged me a photograph of a family I know only by name, only by what they were struggling through. The photo depicts a tired man looking toward the left-bottom. In his arm he’s holding one of his sons, whose back is turned to us. Two others boys are also looking toward the same direction—one is crying quietly, the other hysterically.
A couple of the ladies in my small group knew this family and had been praying the past year for the mother, who was diagnosed with brain cancer. The photo showed the husband and children at their home in the moment of her death. It was a painful photo for me to look at—in fact, I didn’t want to view it at all. I didn’t want to think about the pain that family was going through, of how the kids would grow up without their mommy and how they would never be the same. They would never be whole again—and yet, they will be guided by their mom throughout their lives. The lessons she imparted on them, the love she showed them, and this tragic event itself will shape how they live.*
In Tokyo Magnitude 9.0, a beautiful and heart-wrenching series that I fear has been buried in the avalanche of streaming anime, examines death in a most subtle and touching way (MAJOR spoilers ahead—if you’re considering watching the series, and you should, don’t read any further). For most of the series, Mirai, a bratty middle-schooler, and her kind, warm, younger brother, Yuki, are trying to find their way back home after a catastrophic earthquake. Mirai is self-centered and not too helpful; thankfully, through Yuki’s positivity and the aid of Mari, a young woman also looking for her family, they make their way to their destination.
When they arrive home, however, we as the viewers become subject to one of the most devastating reveals in all anime. Yuki has never physically been with Mirai during the journey—he is dead, having passed away right at the beginning of the ordeal, before Mirai even started to look for their parents, with his spirit guiding her along the way. At first, Mirai isn’t willing to even let Yuki explain what happened, but ultimately, by the series conclusion, she has accepted his death. More than that, she’s grown up and become a warmer, more compassionate person. Yuki, in death, has given his sister life.
Just recently, a good friend has moved back to my city after being away for several years. While he was gone, his wife, one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known, passed away suddenly. She took care of herself, exercising and eating well, so her death was a shock to all of us. It took my wife and I a long time to process it—in fact, we still are, more than a year after it happened.
Although my friend died, she still remains with us, and like Yuki, guides us from time to time. When we’re overwhelmed by life, we sometimes remember her and value our relationships and the other important things in life more. When her family returned, we poured out our love onto them and will continue to, choosing to give instead of falling back into the routine of taking. And in the quiet, we sometimes encourage ourselves to live more like her, to live a more generous life like she did—because if not us, then who?
The idea that the deceased will “always be with us” after they die feels trite these days, as if we rely on that phrase instead of something that takes real heart and real thinking in comforting someone after they’ve lost a loved one. But my experience has been that the platitude is true, and I’ve seen the same in others, including my brother-in-law, who absolutely transformed into this loving, giving soul after the sudden, violent death of a close friend.
The transformation Yuki causes helps in making him a great character, but he’s also that because even before the surprising reveal, he’s absolutely memorable: he’s the younger brother we want to have, the young man we wish we had been. He loves his sister when she doesn’t love him in return, to the point of death, to a point beyond death.
The dead remain with us, too, after they’re gone. And as with Yuki, they can guide us well, if we’re willing to let them change our hearts. And in doing so, the cliche becomes true: our loved ones stay with us, in our hearts, always.
* This video shows the husband and wife I spoke about earlier in the video in the weeks preceding her death. It’s pretty inspirational—she was a wonderful woman.